THE ROLLING STONES
May 30, 2015
By Jim Hutter
It is a rare occurrence when two iconic ‘60's rock bands play Columbus within two weeks of one another, but that is exactly what happened when The Who and The Rolling Stones came to town in late May. Many would argue that both bands are far past their prime, with neither having made a genuinely great album in over 30 years. Also, factor in that founding members of both bands are over 70 years of age, and it is easy to see why even the most ardent fan would have reservations about these British Invasion greats still touring 50 years after their initial breakthrough. Still, how often do Central Ohio residents get to see these musical legends? For that very reason, I made a pilgrimage to see The Rolling Stones play Ohio Stadium on May 30, 2015.
I admittedly prefer small nightclub performances to stadium shows, because I enjoy the intimacy of seeing musical performers as human beings. Sitting in C-Deck of Ohio Stadium, one could see the massive stage setup below. It included gigantic video screens and a 100-foot runway for singer Mick Jagger to strut his stuff. With his 72nd birthday rapidly approaching, would Jagger still have the athletic prowess to grace us with his fleet feet and soulful shouting? The answer came pretty quickly, and it was a very pleasant surprise.
After much fanfare of overblown theme music and a photo montage on the giant television monitors, Ohio Stadium was graced with the sound of Keith Richards pounding out the opening chords of “Jumping’ Jack Flash.” Jagger leapt to the occasion, dancing down the runway like a junior James Brown while belting some fine British blues. Close-ups of the singer on the video screens were revealing. While Jagger possesses an appropriately craggy countenance, his trim build and visible six-pack abs are stunning. He would be considered in great shape for a man 40 years his junior. The man still has it!
Next in line was a rousing take of “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It).” If anything, this song is anthemic. With a seventies-centered set list, the song is symbolic of everything The Rolling Stones stood for during that decade. Self-indulgent lifestyles aside, the band’s music remained unpretentious, raw, and blues-based. Jagger & Richards never attempted to write profound or poetic songs, nor did their music ever take itself too seriously. Instead, The Stones have lived up to the self-fulfilling prophecy of this song for over 40 years. God bless them for it!
Admittedly, there was a bit of pandering to audience expectations. Recognizing that he was in the heart of Ohio, Mick Jagger led the audience in a sing-along of “Hang on, Sloopy.” It was calculated and corny, but not out of character for The Rolling Stones. Just remember that the original band cut their teeth by almost exclusively recording American rhythm and blues covers. “Sloopy” was cut from this same cloth.
Some pleasant surprises from the Brian Jones era were in store. First was the 1967 hit “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” It was beautifully driven by sideman Chuck Leavell’s boogie piano and Charlie Watts’ four beats-to-the-bar drumming. Charlie was awfully good tonight - not unlike Mick Jagger’s observation on the 1970 live album, “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out.”
After rocking “Tumbling Dice” into “Doom and Gloom,” the band swaggered out with the horn-driven “Bitch.” On this tour, the soulful saxophones were provided by Karl Denson and Tim Reis, who have replaced the recently-departed Bobby Keyes. “Bitch” was one of three classics taken from the recently-reissued 1971 album, “Sticky Fingers.” The others were “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar,” alternating melancholy with forceful lust. Ron Wood handled the smooth Mick Taylor solos with warmth and grace.
Another visit to the British Invasion was “Paint It Black.” It was somewhat surprising to see Ron Wood twanging away on an electric sitar, recreating the same licks played by Brian Jones in 1966. Propelled by strip-club drums and theatrical organ, the sonic onslaught was no less thrilling than it was some 49 years ago.
After the Charlie Watts’ percussive punch of “Honky Tonk Women,” Keith Richards took center stage and intoned two of his classics, “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy.” At 71, the man does not look a day over 95 and rocks with more balls than many musicians under 30. I am convinced he is the Human Cockroach and will outlive us all.
When Jagger returned to the stage, he launched into the 1968 drama piece, “Midnight Rambler.” As the seasoned bluesman sang, “Did you hear about the Boston Strangler,” Charlie Watts laid down one of his exploding floor tom attacks. An avid fan in the audience could be heard exclaiming, “Goddamn!” with timing perfectly matching the tempo on “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out.” It was a perfect complement to a near-perfect song.
The band paid homage to the disco years with a funky “Miss You” from the 1978 classic Some Girls. Sideman Darryl Jones, who has been with Stones for over 22 years, laid down the perfect slapped bass line as he joked and jostled with Keith Richards. Why isn’t he considered a full-fledged band member? He is truly amazing on the four-string and deserves to be considered the proper successor to Bill Wyman.
A highlight of the night was “Gimme Shelter.” As backing vocalist Lisa Fischer broke away from her harmony partner Bernard Fowler, she stole the show by taking the runway and belting the female vocal solo in a manner that was equal parts angelic gospel and Aretha Franklin soulful. Ms. Fischer received a well-deserved standing ovation.
As fireworks exploded from behind the stage, Mick, Keef, Charlie, and Woody charged forward with “Start Me Up.” The pyrotechnics continued with “Sympathy for the Devil.” With hellfire projected onto the video screens, Jagger crooned the tale of ol’ Beelzebub while donning a crimson feather boa. Keith recreated his dirty slide guitar solo with menace. The performance was almost frightening.
“Brown Sugar” - with prerequisite out-of-tune Keith Richards’ chording - closed the main set. The first encore was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” augmented by members of The Ohio University Chorale. The prim & proper choir beautifully contrasted with the dirt and grit of “The World’s Greatest Rock Band.”
Our gentlemen of distinction closed down the night with their 50-year-old signature song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” While some would argue that their performance was a clichéd self-parody, there was no doubting the “satisfying” effect upon the crowd. While the performance was rawer and featured more sophisticated instrumentation than the original British Decca recording, it still sounded great, allowing Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood to go out on top.
Much like The Who, The Rolling Stones know very well that their best days are behind them, but they still know how to put on one amazing show. Wishing for the impossible, it would have been great to see them in 1965, 1969, 1972, or 1978, but I will gladly take 2015. It was that good.